Believing to Belong: Addressing the Novice-Expert Problem in Polarized Scientific Communication

Social Epistemology 34 (5):440-452 (2020)
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Abstract
There is a large gap between the specialized knowledge of scientists and laypeople’s understanding of the sciences. The novice-expert problem arises when non-experts are confronted with (real or apparent) scientific disagreement, and when they don’t know whom to trust. Because they are not able to gauge the content of expert testimony, they rely on imperfect heuristics to evaluate the trustworthiness of scientists. This paper investigates why some bodies of scientific knowledge become polarized along political fault lines. Laypeople navigate conflicting epistemic and social demands in their acceptance of scientific testimony; this might explain their deference to scientific fringe theories, which often goes together with denying established scientific theories. I evaluate three approaches to mitigate denialism: improving the message, improving the messenger, and improving the environment in which the message is conveyed.
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Archival date: 2020-03-22
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